What you should know if you receive a letter inviting you to a pre-proceedings meeting
What the letter means
When the Local Authority are concerned about the care that is given to your child they will have their legal department send you a letter inviting you to a meeting. At this stage social services are so concerned about the care given to your child they are considering making an application to Court for a Care Order.
A Care Order would give the local authority parental responsibility for your child which would enable them to make decisions about the care they receive, including where they should live. The pre-proceedings process gives you the opportunity to make changes in order to avoid going to court. It is very important that you do not ignore the letter and engage with social services during this process. As the letter will make clear, this will be your last chance to show that you can work with social services and improve the situation for your child.
What happens at a pre-proceedings meeting
A pre-proceedings meeting is a meeting between you and your social worker. Unlike other meetings you may both take a legal representative with you. Your social worker will discuss and explain any concerns they have about the care given to your child.
They will have put together an agreement ahead of this meeting. This agreement is essentially a list of things that they are asking you to do or not do so that they can be satisfied that your child would be appropriately protected.
You will be given the chance to discuss the agreement with your legal representative. Any support you may need from the social worker to help you keep to the terms of the agreement may also be discussed at the meeting. Once the terms have been agreed it will be signed by you, the social worker and your respective legal representatives. It is very important that you keep to the terms of the agreement as this will show that you are willing and able to work with professionals.
Who may attend these meetings
The social worker, you as the parent of the child and your legal representatives should attend these meetings. In some instances, parents may attend separate meetings if it is felt that this would be more productive.
The social workers team manager and your family support worker may also be invited. Any other adult who has care of your child can also be asked to attend.
The need for legal representation
When social services have brought things to this stage it means that the situation is serious. You should consult a lawyer to see if you can find a way together to stop things progressing to Court and an application for a Care Order being made.
You are entitled to legal aid
If you have received a letter from social services inviting you to a pre-proceedings meeting and you are the parent of the child involved you will be automatically entitled to legal aid. All you have to do is show the letter inviting you to the meeting to the solicitor.